After 3 seasons of telling more or less the same story, Season 4 of Showtime’s NURSE JACKIE took a leap that revitalized the show. Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco), having successfully concealed her drug addiction, her adulteries, and her many, many lies from her husband (Dominic Fumusa), and her friends and colleagues, was finally caught. Her marriage cratered and she spent the beginning of Season 4 in rehab.
When she emerged, the show stopped being one about an addict who somehow managed to juggle her vices with superb nursing, and became one about a woman who was trying to stay clean while her life was falling apart. This mode may have been more familiar and less original than the original storyline–but it was time for the change. After a while, Jackie’s serial lying had became predictable in its own way, and her character began to feel pathological. Unless the series was going to become Breaking Bad and turn Jackie into a monster (which would have been interesting but probably not very funny), it was smart to embrace Jackie’s rehab and its consequences: Jackie’s husband and daughters became a less important part of the show as they were now living apart, and the series became more of a workplace comedy-drama than it had been. Here, too, there was a major change: Bobby Cannavale joined the cast as Jackie’s new boss at the hospital, Mike Cruz, who was first merely Jackie’s nemesis, but had, as it turned out, an unexpected overlap with her private life.
Along with the addition of Cannavale, most of the other regular characters were shifted in ways big and small. Zoe (Merritt Weaver), who had been pure comedy relief as the trainee nurse whose bubbly personality and mistakes were suffered by Jackie, grew into a junior buddy and even Jackie’s roommate; Dr. Cooper’s (Peter Facinelli) stupidity was greatly modulated; Gloria (Anna Deveare Smith), demoted and eventually fired by Cruz, became an ally; and Jackie’s best friend Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best) endured pregnancy. All these changes helped give forward motion to a show that had seemed to be moving in circles for too long.
In the Season 4 finale, written by series co-creator Liz Brixius and directed by Randall Einhorn, most of the season’s plotlines came to fruition. The tensions between Jackie and Cruz reached a head and he fired her (although as even Showtime’s promos were quick to assure us, that won’t last for long); O’Hara went into labor, aided by the ever-eager Coop; Cruz’s personal crisis with his addicted son arrived at a tragic end. Even Jackie’s daughter Grace (Ruby Jerins) made an appearance, less obsessed with death than she was in Season 3, and giddily happy to have Jackie grant her wish of transfer to a public school.
In this as in every other season, Nurse Jackie is anchored by the amazing Falco, who navigates the space between sarcastic comedy and internal agony in a single inflection. The rest of the cast, especially as their characters have been been toned down this season, has been interacting beautifully. The writing has seemed sprightlier too, without having to deal with the recurring plotline of Jackie-almost-gets-caught, Jackie-lies-her-way-out-of-it.
Nurse Jackie‘s ratings have held up well after a move from Monday nights, despite an extremely competitive timeslot that’s included the last episodes of Desperate Housewives, Mad Men and Game of Thrones, and it’s already been renewed for next season. It will, however, have a change in showrunners for the first time since hitting the air, with Clyde Phillips, from Showtime’s own Dexter, taking over the reins. How will that change the show? We won’t know for another year. But Jackie has proven itself quite adaptable this season, and it has an exceptionally strong core in its fine cast, so there’s no reason to think the series won’t continue to be effectively self-medicating for some time to come.